City: Developers pay ‘fair share’ of road work

Question arises over mechanism used to determine how much is fair

Who pays for road and intersection improvements that will be needed in the future as the community grows?

That was a central question this week during a Prescott City Council workshop on the planned 1,800-acre Deep Well Ranch project.

The council conducted its third workshop on the project on Tuesday, Nov. 14 – focusing this week on traffic impacts and engineering.

Steve Orosz, program development manager with the city’s public works department, noted that the Deep Well Ranch project would make up a portion of the homes that will be generating traffic in the Prescott area in the coming decades.

Along with Deep Well’s planned 10,500 homes, slightly fewer than 6,000 other new homes are planned in nearby developments.

A map provided by the city showed that the Arizona Eco project plans a total of 3,300 homes north and south of the Granite Dells Parkway interchange, while Granite Dells Estates has another 1,399 homes in the works, and Walden Ranch plans 215 homes.

Adding to the total are nearby existing developments such as Prescott Lakes, The Ranch and Yavapai Hills – some of which are far from built out.

And Prescott City Councilwoman Billie Orr, the city’s representative on the regional transportation-planning organization (Central Yavapai Metropolitan Planning Organization), noted that traffic from surrounding communities also has significant impacts on Prescott’s traffic.

“Eighty percent of the traffic in the morning commute is coming into Prescott,” Orr said. “This is a county issue; it’s not just what’s going on in Prescott.”

Traffic mechanism in place

Orosz explained that the city has an established process for determining when a more detailed traffic analysis would be necessary.

“As we go through this, we’re going to be seeing more detailed refinements, more detailed studies, when there’s a specific use – a school, a jewelry store, a grocery store,” Orosz said.

As an example, he pointed to the intersection of Highway 89, 89A, and Pioneer Parkway. “At some point in the future, that’s going to need major improvements; same thing with Willow Creek Road/Pioneer Parkway,” Orosz said. “Right now, we don’t know how much right-of-way is needed to accommodate those future improvements.”

That level of planning comes later, Orosz said, noting, “As you have developments come on board, they’re going to follow our requirements for site-specific traffic analysis.”

Councilman Greg Lazzell clarified that by noting, “Under the proposed master plan … if a wider corridor or wider intersection is needed, we as a city or ADOT (Arizona Department of Transportation) have the ability to adjust that.”

But that raised a question from Councilwoman Jean Wilcox: “But who pays for it?” she asked.

Orosz responded: “It would depend on the (traffic) contributions of the project and how much is regional. We look at that from a global perspective and identify a fair-share contribution from a project.”

Comparing the process to the one that took place to determine the Walden Ranch developer’s share of the cost for the ongoing Phippen Roundabout in Highway 89, Orosz said, “We have mechanisms in place to identify who pays, and how we pay.”

Wilcox questioned the process, however. “I have an issue with those mechanisms,” she said. “If it weren’t for the new development, some of those improvements wouldn’t have been needed, and I think that’s going to be true in the future as well.”

Ongoing review

Orosz emphasized that public works staff and the developers have worked out many of the issues that arose at the beginning of the project’s review.

“Initially, there were over 390 comments and concerns to be addressed on these documents,” Orosz’s presentation stated, adding that after the first round of discussions, “90 potential conditions of approval were identified.”

Since then, Orosz said, “Meetings with the applicant have resolved 89 of the 90 conditions, so we’ve been making great progress.” (The remaining issue – regarding bicycle lanes was resolved at Tuesday’s meeting, with council members agreeing that the Deep Well development should provide off-street multi-use paths, as the city code requires, rather than a combination of on-street lanes and off-street paths).

Still to come is the development agreement between the Deep Well developers and the city, which will include many of the details.

City Attorney Jon Paladini said the draft agreement is nearly complete, and would be the topic of an executive session by the City Council on Monday, Nov. 20.

By later that day or early Tuesday, Nov. 21, the city will post the agreement on its website, www.prescott-az.gov, Paladini said.

Then, another public council workshop is planned for 1 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 21, at Prescott City Hall, 201 S. Cortez St.

The current council appears poised to make a decision on the Deep Well master plan and development agreement on Nov. 28, before the new council members are sworn into office at the end of the meeting.